Addendum to The Proto-Sumerian Language Invention Process

by John A. Halloran

This note follows up on the conclusions at the end of my 1996 paper on "The Proto-Sumerian Language Invention Process".

After the proto-Sumerians made the conceptual breakthrough of mapping important things in the world to vocalic symbols, i.e., inventing spoken language, the concept spread to other nearby cultures.

Archaeologists now describe the very early megalithic temple site of Göbekli Tepe in south-eastern Turkey/Anatolia as an important supra-regional pilgrimage site, whose "rich and varied material culture suggests its visitation by peoples from three distinct cultural regions: Upper Mesopotamia, the Zagros and the southern Levant" (where proto-Sumerian arose to the east in the Zagros mountains and proto-Semitic arose down in the southern Levant). "Research indicates the site was created by hunter-gatherers, rather than farmers, who came from across a large area to build and then visit the site for religious purposes." In an informative program for the National Geographic Channel called Cradle of the Gods, archaeologist Dr. Jeff Rose devoted an hour to exploring what the site of Göbekli Tepe might have been used for and where its builders might have lived.

In parallel with the archaeology, language studies are increasingly indicating that it was these same inhabitants of southeastern Anatolia who created and perfected the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language, the ancestor of English, Russian, Sanskrit, Persian, Latin, Greek, Hittite, Armenian, Kurdish, etc. According to an article in the August 23, 2012 issue of the journal Science, an evolutionary biologist, Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and a large international team have adapted a technique normally used to study the evolution and spread of disease (Bayesian phylogeographic analysis) to analyze the existing vocabulary and geographical range of 103 Indo-European languages and computationally walk them back in time and place to their statistically most likely origin. The result is that "we found decisive support for an Anatolian origin over a steppe origin." Both the timing and the root of the tree of Indo-European languages "fit with an agricultural expansion from Anatolia beginning 8,000 to 9,500 years ago".

The creators of PIE did not originate the concept of spoken mouth gestures for communication, but living at the center of a vibrant multi-cultural community, they probably had extensive experience in communicating using bodily gestures. They applied that background to develop what in effect was an improved Language 2.0, versions of which then spread far and wide from the Göbekli Tepe pilgrimage site.

In an episode of the TV sit-com Two and a Half Men from 2003, Jon Cryer's character Alan says, "I mean, why doesn't anyone speak Sumerian anymore?" Compared to the other languages that it inspired, Sumerian had a more primitive design structure. You might as well ask why computer programmers no longer write code directly in machine assembly language, preferring instead one of the more modern high-level programming languages, which are conceptually flexible and user-friendly.

  1. R. Bouckaert, P. Lemey, M. Dunn, S. J. Greenhill, A. V. Alekseyenko, A. J. Drummond, R. D. Gray, M. A. Suchard, Q. D. Atkinson. "Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family". Science, 2012; 337 (6097): 957 DOI: 10.1126/science.1219669

Last Revised August 24, 2012

Copyright © 2012 John Alan Halloran. All Rights Reserved.

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